Etica E Politica 11 (1):470-494 (2009)

Michael Byron
Kent State University
Human rights have become an enormously useful tool in our time, and this for a variety of reasons. Useful, yes: but are rights real? I propose first to examine the most significant philosophical attempts to justify human rights. A universally justified conception of rights I call ‘robust,’ since a successful rational justification would fully underwrite the real existence of rights. Alas, we have no such justification; the second part of my remarks sketches devastating objections to each proposed justification. But all is not lost for rights: a new pragmatic justification for rights talk is available, one that is modest. On the modest view rights are real; but then we should like to know whether rights are as useful as they are on the robust view. Not as useful, no; but a
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